THE STORY OF SONAPUR PARISH
The Church of Our Lady of Dolours was built over a graveyard . . . In 1794 the Portuguese inhabitants of South Bombay obtained permission to build a new church with a burial-ground, as the old chapel was dilapidated and it was decided to demolish it. On its site was raised the Cavel Church of Nossa Senhora de Saude, which was proclaimed a separate parish Church in 1796. Obviously, the burial-ground of the new church “could not be placed in the closely inhabited quarters of Cavel," in the words of Fr. E. Hull in the BOMBAY MISSION HISTORY, "and it was granted Sonapur, then on the sea-shore but now bordering Queen’s Road, opposite Marine Lines Station. A small mortuary chapel was built in this cemetery and later it was utilised as a filial chapel. At service time it used to be noticeable for the crowd congregated outside for want of room inside. In, 1905 a new chapel was built over the whole of the cemetery area and so the grave yard totally disappeared. The new chapel was called Nosaa Senhora das Dores (Our Lady of Dolours).
On April 17, 1904, at 5 p.m. H.E., the Most Rev. Dom. Sebastião José Pereira, Archbishop and honour of Cranganor and Bishop of Damaun, accompanied by many priests and a great number of laity proceeded to lay the foundation stone, after blessing it together with the area which the mortuary chapel was to be built in the old cemetery. This chapel was to be under the patronage of Our Lady of Dolours and to be affiliated to the Cavel Church, whose Vicar then was the Rev. Missionary Luis Claudino Pera and the chaplain of the filial chapel of Sonapur was Rev. Fr. Daniel X. Fernandes.
First Image of the Altar
The new chapel was constructed with the help of subscriptions, to which were added contributions of the missions of Damaun, of the Fabrica of Cavel Church and of the public treasury of Goa. Tribute must be paid to the Archbishop-Bishop of Damaun and to the chaplain Rec. Fr. Daniel X. Fernandes, without whose zeal and initiative the success of the undertaking would not have been assured.
The opening ceremony of the new chapel took place on February 7, 1906, at 6 p.m. There assembled in the porch of the chapel the Most Rev. Archbishop-Bishop of Damaun the Rev, Pedro João Elias Moniz, Vicar of Cavel, the Rev. Daniel X. Fernandes, Royal Missionary and chaplain of the Sonapur Chapel, many members of the clergy of the Diocese of Damaun, of the Goa Patriarchat and of the Archdiocese of Bombay, the members of the Board of Administration of Cavel and many people. The Archbishop-Bishop solemnly blessed the new chapel and after the Te Deum, preached a fitting sermon, in which he spoke about the advantages, chiefly, to those who would otherwise have to go far to hear Mass, and thanked the people who had helped in the construction of the chapel. He concluded by exhorting the faithful to have recourse to Our Lady of Dolours, the Patroness of the Chapel, whose beautiful image was kept there for public veneration. This image, was presented by Mr. Isidore Fulgencio D'Souza of Siolim, Bardez, Goa.
As a large number of people attended Mass on Sunday and Holidays of obligation, the chaplain was requested to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the chapel and also to give Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The Chaplain accordingly applied for permission, which he obtained on July 14, 1906. In the following year the Feast of Our Lady of Dolours was celebrated for the first time with Novena, Salves and Vespers in September. In October 1911, the canonical erection of the Stations of the Cross was permitted and the people of the locality were given yet another facility to participate in the liturgical life of the church and to secure graces and indulgences.
The Chaplain went to Goa for the Exposition in December, 1922 and died on December 19. On hearing the sad news, the residents of New Sonapur and the friends of the deceased held a condolence meeting and collected funds for a memorial in the form of a tablet, on which were written - 'IN MEMORY OF Rev. Danie; Xavier Fernandes, Chaplain for 28 years who died on 19-12-1922. This tablet is erected by his friends in Bombay'
With the appointment in 1923 of the Rev. Herculano Gonsalves in place of the acting chaplain, Rev. Scipião Fabião Braganza, the Chapel soon became like unto a Church since many of the religious services ordinarily taking place in a Parish Church were performed with due devotion and reverence. In spite of the increase in the number of daily and Sunday Masses the chapel was not merely crowded but literally overflowed with the ever growing congregation. Material improvements were effected both within and without: the walls were oil painted on more than one occasion, several new vestments and artistic candle sticks were purchased, a new altar to the Little Flower of Jesus was erected and the open space in front of the chapel was acquired, raised and fenced off from the footpath by a railing.
Finally, with his characteristic generosity and in-fatigable zeal Rev. H. Gonsalves established in 1924 The Little Flower of Jesus School, primarily, for the education of the poor children of the locality. The School soon attracted a large number of children and won Government recognition within a few years of its establishment, thanks to the untiring efforts and enthusiasm of the Principal and his able staff.
On the 29th of April, 1930, Very Rev. Mgr. Gonsalves who was nominated the Vigario Vara of Calangute Church and later became the Vicar-General of the Ghats, gave charge of the Chaplaincy to Rev. J. C. Ferreira. He had with his sympathetic guidance, his edifying fervour and his dynamic energy converted the chapel into a veritable source of spiritual good.
Rev. J. C. Ferreira was chaplain for four years during which he maintained the divine services which had been started by Rev. H. Gonsalves but indifferent health prevented him from taking charge of the Little Flower of Jesus School which was handed over to the Goan Union by his predecesor. This was a blessing in disguise, for the next chaplain Rev. Orphino de Sa, started the Parish School of Our Lady of Dolours with the result that the numerous children of the locality had two schools to cater to the educational needs. The year 1928 was one to remember in the history of the Church in Bombay city, for it marked the end of the double jurisdiction and closed a sad chapter of conflict between the Propaganda and Padroado section. On the 21st May 1934, Rev. J.C. Ferreira, the Vicar-Elect of Thana made way for Rev. O. de Sa.
It fell to the lot of Rev. O. de Sa to see the Chapel attain the dignity of a full-fledged Church in 1941 when that far-sighted and noble-hearted prelate, His Grace Archbishop Thomas Roberts, S. J., of Bombay solemnly proclaimed it the Church of Our Lady of Dolours. Rev. O. de Sa's tenure of office as chaplain and as the first Vicar was outstanding in many respects. The Confraternity Our Lady of Dolours was reorganized and topped the 2000 mark in its membership. The Catechism Classes had so far been run by the Church of St. Francis Xavier, Dabul. Rev. O. de Sa decided to take charge of the class and with the help of his curates and 25 lay Catechist he soon had a flourishing Sunday School with over 80 children receiving instruction and training in the Faith. The Annual Christmas Tree for the children of the parish spread undiluted joy among them and the cost often went beyond Rs. lOOO. The Apostleship of Prayer registered phenomenal increase and counted over 3000 members. The Church Of Our Lady of Dolours', Conference of St. Vincent de Paul was established on the 5th of April, 1941 and affiliated to the Central Council of Western India. The Legion of Mary was for the first time launched into the world to combat the menace to faith and morals. The holding of open air services on Good Friday on the Cross Maidan and the celebrations of the Feast of the Holy Cross were innovations greatly appreciated by the people. The magnificent and edifying procession in the Lohar Street on the occasion of the XIII Hours' Adoration gave an opportunity to thousands to make a public manifestation of their Faith, and to hundreds of curious non-Christians to be favourably impressed by this Catholic spectacle. Archbishop Roberts who officiated on one occasion declared that he was reminded of Catholic Ireland by what he had seen with such satisfaction and joy.
Rev. O. de Sa found scope for his boundless vitality and Christian goodness in playing a conspicious part in inaugurating and organising the Catholic Co-operative stores which was God sent in the days of food rationing during the last years of World War II and of the first difficult years of peace. The educational uplift of the children of the parish claimed the tender care and attention of the Vicar and the Parish School that was started in 1942 and named after Our Lady of Dolours was a real boon to the poor children with its very moderate fees and its wholesome Catholic education. In the span of two years and in spite of lack of room in accommodating the class rooms in the space available, (Rev. O. de Sa had to sacrifice his own personal comfort and that of his curates) the school could proudly point to 747 children and a staff of 25 at the time of Rev. O de Sa’s transfer to the Church of Our Lady of Glory. To increase the comfort of the congregation in a small and overcrowded church the Vicar installed fans and covered the porch with asbestos roofing. Finally, the purchase of two buildings adjoining the Church held promise of more room for the parochial house and for the School to expand.
On January 5, 1947, the Parish had the great pleasure of extending a warm welcome to Dr. Valerian Gracias, Bishop Auxiliary, and of presenting His Lordship with an address which inter alia referred to the need of an extension to the church to cope with the large crowds that attend Mass on Sundays.
Rev. Mgr. O. de Sa Vicar-elect of Glory Church and Dean of North Bombay, handed over the charge of the Parish on Sept. 30,1949, to Rev. Marcus Gomes Gonsalves, who set about resolutely to pay off debts incurred in the purchase of the two buildings. Room was found to install a third altar dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, the expense of which was defrayed by Mr. A. Saude Dias.
A serious illness towards the end of 1951 prevented Rev. M. G. Gonsalves from carrying on with his pastoral labours and ultimately compelled him to resign. He was followed by Rev. Apollinaris D'Souza. December, 1954 saw the beginning of the Perpetual Novena of Our Lady of Sorrows which the Vicar established under the authority granted to him by the Prior General of the Servite Order of Blessed Virgin Mary, Convent of the Mother of Dolours, Chicago. Three services were held on every Friday, first in English at 4-30 and the other two in Konkani at 6 and 7 p.m. The Parish School had since June, 1955, enjoyed services of 3 Sisters of the Holy Cross Convent, Amravati. The faithful dedicate themselves to the unstinted service of the peerless Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Dolours, who in the midst of increasing trials and tribulations stands as a veritable Rock of Salvation.
Over the years with successive Parish Priests, our church has undergone some major structural changes with shifting of the Altar and others additions to help accommodate the growing Parish Community. Alongside, the role of our Parish community has grown over the years, thanks to the various activities organised by the many organisations making our Parish a very vibrant one.
The Small Christian Communities entry in the early eighties helped make great inroads into their respective neighbourhoods and fostered a closer relationship among people. Increased participation in various activities both at the neighbourhood and parish level has helped our parishioners to understand and reach out to the members in their community, which has made a lot of difference in their lives and relationships with each other. Here the role of the Parish Pastoral Council, the Area coordinators together with their core groups, Cells and Associations in the parish cannot be highlighted enough.